Change politics by taking a stand – comment – Change politics by taking a stand
February 26, 2008
Chukwoma Okonkwo

It’s a long time coming, but I know a change is going to come.

If the Democratic primaries in the United States are any indication, then it seems that African people are once again spearheading a political revolution.

After years of being politically dormant, African people throughout North America are finally getting re-engaged with politics. This wave of momentum down south has rippled its way northward, inspiring many Canadians.

But as we begin to pioneer our new political future, let’s not forget the principles that our leaders fought to achieve.

For hundreds of years, African Canadians have been fighting for equality and human rights. Many people tend to forget that Canada also participated in slavery. Although Canada helped facilitate an end to slavery, inequality and discrimination continued to flourish in this country. To this day there has been no restitution for these crimes against humanity.

Our right to vote lies at the heart of our democratic society, and is one of those fundamental principles our ancestors fought to achieve. Unfortunately, African Canadians have failed to use this opportunity to proactively initiate change.

As a country that fights to protect democracy around the world, we need to do more to ensure that Canadians participate in the political process.

If we really wanted to promote democracy, then voting would be mandatory, as in Australia, as opposed to voluntary. But a smaller electorate is easier to control and normally represents the majority.

That is why in places like Toronto, a city with the largest black population in Canada, we need to make sure that the priorities of African Canadians make the political agenda.

Although we may have won the battle for our freedom, we are losing the war against inequality and discrimination. From the classroom to the workplace, African Canadians continue to encounter barriers to success.

The only way we can champion this issue is to build coalitions with other groups of people facing discrimination.

The one issue that seems to have garnered the most attention from our community recently is the state of our schools. There is no question that our schools are failing our children, yet there has been more talk than action on the issue.

There is an obvious caste system within our education system that must change. Women, aboriginals, homosexuals and African Canadians of all faiths should learn together. Instead we have settled with the notion that it is better to live in ignorance rather than deal with the issues.

The so-called mosaic we live in will cease to exist if we continue to divide ourselves into groups of hyphenated Canadians. If we are to accommodate the next generation of Canadians, we must do so in a way that recognizes the multicultural makeup of our society. This will not be easy but nothing we have accomplished in history has been.

This month is Black History Month, and I cannot help but look back at our history with a sense of pride and resentment.

The one thing I think our ancestors would want us to do is make sure that their story is never forgotten. They would not want us to sit idle while others suffered from inequality and discrimination here or abroad.

That is why we should remember their sacrifices by continuing their fight for change. Their blood, sweat and tears helped create this great nation of ours, and it is up to us to continue to build on their accomplishments.

Let’s get involved in politics. Whatever your principles are, stand up for them. If you don’t stand for something, then you will fall for anything.

If there is anything that our leaders have taught us is worth standing up for, it’s our principles.

Chukwuma Okonkwo is a student starting a new business. He was born and raised in Scarborough, and is the son of Nigerian immigrants.

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