I am a proud New Democrat. In some ways, it is all I know – most of my adult working life has centered around a community of people, organizers and advocates that welcomed me into the fold when I first started volunteering for the party in 2012.
But the burden and joy of fighting for what progressives believe will bring about a more just and unified Canada seems to be rapidly slipping away.
Over the last five years I have worked on seven election campaigns – municipally, provincially and federally – and volunteered on countless others. These experiences have offered some of the highest highs but also the lowest lows of my life.
Organizing is hard. In our relentless quest to make the world a better place, we often forget to take care of ourselves. It is my political family that has brought me back and mended me over and over again.
But like any relationship, it can be complicated. In the same way my political family has made me feel powerful and strong, and connected me to movements that are bigger than myself, it has, on occasion, also completely broken my heart.
And with another federal election on the horizon, I’ve been reflecting a lot on politics and partisanship.
As a millennial, a racialized woman, a child of immigrants and a person who struggles deeply with mental health, it’s difficult to believe in your own self-worth when you carry a mixed bag of identities that are often not represented in our politics. This is always going to be my life, reflected back at me, regardless of what I do.
All of which is to say that in the almost two years since Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership, I don’t think I realized how important his presence as the first racialized leader of a federal political party in Canada would be for me.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t hesitate to throw my support behind Singh. My vote was never up for grabs. The door creaked open ever so slightly to make history and I couldn’t have marked my ballot fast enough.
Some may think I was being naive, but I was there when Singh’s name was called in the ballroom at the Westin Harbour Castle. I cried almost immediately. My heart swelled with a joy that reverberated through my body. Something historic happened and it was entirely because because people who felt like me dared to dream bigger than ever before.
In his memoir, Love & Courage, Singh writes, that “sometimes, loving someone, even yourself, takes a lot of courage.” In Singh, I’ve been reminded that the biggest changes happen incrementally – that my identity, in all its complexities, is my biggest strength.
I say all of this knowing that things haven’t been perfect. There are things that he should and could be doing better.
When I hear about his unpreparedness in interviews or press conferences, for example, I can understand where those criticisms are coming from. When I hear comments that question whether Canada truly is ready for a racialized leader, I don’t need to have that internalized racism explained to me.
People say that he’s just a glitz and glamour politician who doesn’t have the experience to win. I get it. I know that for some, he is not the leader they envisioned.
He is, however, a leader that has made many people like me feel seen in ways that, to be frank, a non-racialized leader could never do.
In a time when inescapable racism, xenophobia and hate is bubbling up everywhere, Singh remains part of the reason why I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of how the upcoming October election pans out.
Laura Nguyen is an NDP organizer based in Toronto.