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Cheol Joon Baek
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Were those orange flowers down University today, where thousands in the People's Procession followed dear Jack's cortege, planted specially for the occasion?
Couldn't be, of course, but then again the whole city's been orange crushed for six days now, and in true Jack mode, even the impossible is plausible.
All the sad week long, strange and ethereal things have been occurring. Besides the fact that everyone around me is chronically teary, City Hall square's turned into a message-filled plaza of inspiration and people of every nationality and age are hanging there, soaking in each other's auras.
Friday night, I watched an oranged-bedecked Critical Mass bike ride take over Broadview, pedaling through the automotive confusion for Jack, and leaving me with a major lump in the throat. And towards midnight, emerging from the glow of the candles outside the Broadview Danforth constituency office, I happened upon a crew of locals tying orange crepe ribbons around trees and hydro poles up and down the streets of southern Riverdale.
Layton has left but he isn't gone.
Following the procession along University today, led by the armed might of the state in parade regalia, I could feel his presence; Layton marched this classic Toronto demonstration route so many, many times over the years and as the cowbells and drums and bike bells sounded, and the bubbles wafted through the air, I swear I could see him dancing to the rhythm the way he used to.
As we got to Roy Thomson the euphoria drained away to a more rightful gloominess and I made a snap decision not to use my pass to enter the hall and chose video with the masses instead. I followed the dense crowd to the side of the hall and sat down on the grass in front of the screens.
If there was any doubt about the partisan loyalties of the people I shared the turf with, it was laid to rest at the standing ovation and cries of recognition that greeted Stephen Lewis's insistence that Jack's final missive was social democratic to the core. "If there was one word that might sum up Jack Layton's unabashed social democratic message, it would be generosity. He wanted in the simplest terms, a more generous Canada," Lewis said in the emphatic style uniquely his.
I noted one advantage of watching from the outside; people here weren't rubbing shoulders with the political masters and were hence less constrained. I'm sure folks in the hall were too polite to guffaw when Stephen Harper jumped to his feet to salute social democracy; out on the grass he was treated to hoots of derision, not in keeping, I know, with the theme of civility in politics, but a momentary anti-depressant nonetheless.
It was a glorious afternoon. We got to hear heart-aching stories about Layton ("always have a dream longer than a lifetime," Mike Layton quoted his dad as advising), and the country got a primer on the social democratic ethos.
Lewis offered the pedagogical flourishes Layton would have wanted him to. "Jack understood that we are headed into even more perilous economic times. He wanted Canadians," said Lewis, "to have a choice between the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity."
That, I think, was the intended political takeaway of the day. Brent Hawkes layered the message with Laytonian meaning. When doing politics, he said: "Bring your passion but bring your compassion, too; bring your agenda but also a commitment to how we accomplish that together; bring your serious issues but also sing together and occasionally pick up a harmonica.''
It's the Jack-spirit speaking. The new task of the moment is for the NDP to get really adept at channeling it.