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Knock, Knock

Well, ’tis the season once again. Three times in one week, we’ve had a knock at the door from canvassers. It’s been kind of quiet at the front door for the last year-and-a-half, other than the odd package arriving, so the sudden “deluge” surprised me.

Two of the door knockers were looking for donations for their organizations. The other was from a political party regarding the upcoming Federal election. As soon as I answered the door the first time, I thought “Doh! Should have hidden in the bathroom.” Instead I was stuck there listening to the spiel.

I try to look polite and patient, but I’m sure they can see the “Oh my lord, can we get this over with?” haze in my eyes. I was a canvasser for a political party many, many years ago so I know that disengaged look well.

As soon as you open the door and realize who’s in front of you, there’s a momentary panic. What do I do? How do I end this? A couple of times in past when I’ve been in a particularly bad state, I’ve just cut a canvasser off with a quick “Not interested,” and closed the door. But then I feel bad.

Most of the time, I let them finish their pitch and, as politely as I can, tell them I’d rather not contribute.

Occasionally, I actually do hide in the bathroom.

Two of the canvassers last week were young women, intelligent, well spoken and sincere. They had their speeches down pat from having to repeat it many times. But as soon as I see one of those electronic credit card units in their hands, I know they’re trying to lock me into a lifetime of financial commitment to their cause.

I mean, they would be most happy if we all pledged monthly donations for the rest of eternity to the organizations they are so passionate about. I get that.

The reality is that none of us can support absolutely every cause and every emergency that comes up. Well, maybe 1% can.

I made the decision years ago to pick the organizations I wanted to support, and then set up a regular financial contribution to them. And when I have my wits about me, I remember to tell the canvassers that before things progress too much. But I’m out of practice.

I also feel for political party canvassers, especially now. It’s always been difficult to be out there knocking on the doors of people who clearly can’t stand your politics. But these days, there’s even more nastiness out there than usual, and an election just gives some people another excuse to bicker, bellow and blame.

I’m trying to make myself remember that first part of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s motto: be kind.

Oh, and speaking of the election, here’s one for you:

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Gladys.

Gladys who?

Gladys Almostover.

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A Game Of Tag

Sometimes when I’m out on my daily walk, I find hopscotch boxes or messages drawn in chalk on the sidewalk that make me smile. In the first few weeks and months of COVID-19, there were a lot of messages, especially positive and encouraging ones. Sometimes you’d even find goofy Dad jokes. It was graffiti of the best kind.

Graffiti has been around for thousands of years, discovered on the walls of caves, in ancient Egypt and Greece and the Roman Empire. Most of it was in the form of etched inscriptions or figure drawings. In fact, the word “graffiti” comes from the Italian word “graffiato” which means “scratched”. The things you learn, eh?

Although it was also found in abandoned buildings and bombed out areas in Europe during World War II, what we think of as graffiti today was mostly born out of popular culture and the political movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.

It is not necessarily the same as street art, but the word “graffiti” is often used for both. These days, graffiti is usually word-based, where as street art is image-based. There have been wars between some street artists and graffiti artists for years, especially because street art has been accepted and even invited in certain sections of cities and towns. In most places, however, graffiti and street art are both still illegal. Some of you will recognize the name Banksy, a very famous, British-based street artist whose real identity remains unconfirmed. If you’ve never seen his documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, I highly recommend it.

In and around my neighbourhood, graffiti of the not-so-great kind seems to have become more abundant lately. Tagging, which is more of a way of marking territory, is especially noticeable.

I really don’t like it. I mean, I get it. Freedom of expression and all that. But to me, it’s just plain ugly.

Tags show up on walls, street signs, utility boxes, on buses, fences and pretty much any blank surface outdoors. The tags themselves mean nothing to most of us, only to the small community of people who do it. And the illegality of it doesn’t seem to phase the taggers.

Spray paint has been their medium of choice for many years because of its portability and permanence. It is a pain in the butt to clean because it’s mainly oil-based, so painting over the graffiti is often the only way to clean it up. I’ve seen the same wall of one corner store graffitied and tagged, then painted over and repaired time and time again. It has become some sort of “game of tag”. As soon as the mess is cleaned, they’re at it again.

At one time, Canada Post boxes were one of the blank surfaces constantly targeted by taggers. But you may have noticed in the last few years that mailboxes are now plastered with a jumble of postal codes on all sides, meant to make tagging less visible. Not only that, but the postal codes are actually on an adhesive, which can be peeled off and replaced if it gets too messy. Very clever!

Utility boxes have also been a tagger temptation. But the City of Victoria has started “wrapping” these blank boxes with photos and other scenes to discourage graffiti. Box wraps have also made an appearance in the Burnside/Gorge area, with the Burnside Gorge Community Centre┬áinviting members of the public to come up with designs for utility boxes there. I’m sure this idea will soon become commonplace in most communities.

A “wrapped” utility box in the Oaklands neighbourhood of Victoria. (Irene Jackson)

Not only are the box wraps nicer than graffiti, they are also interesting. The photo on the utility box above is the 2800 Block of Scott Street here in Victoria, circa 1947, with its brand new wartime homes. A lot of those old homes are still standing!

A neighbourhood mural in the works (Irene Jackson)

In my neighbourhood, the wall of one small block of retail stores is now painted with a colourful mural depicting “What Makes A Community”. A group of neighbours started painting it last summer and it is now complete. So far, the taggers have left it alone.

And so it seems that one way to beat them at their own game is to simply be a step ahead of them.

Nothing is going to completely stop taggers from defacing property. In a perfect world, they would have a place where they can legally make their mark, and stay away from everything else. But I think taggers are far more rebellious than that.

Maybe we can convince them to try chalk?

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Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.