I recently took a month off of social media because I was finding the whole experience overwhelmingly negative. People, myself included, have a tendency to vent online. It’s fine. We all need a place to share our frustrations. Still, it can be exhausting and present a myopic view of what’s really going on in our day-to-day lives.
Seeing people crap on Rob Ford is not new and I’m not above criticizing him myself (as you can see here, here and here.) What I’ve noticed more and more, however, is a tendency to be harshly critical of the people who voted for or continue to support him, colloquially called Ford Nation. There is no pause before calling them f**king idiots, morons, and right-wing *ssholes (* means I’m not really swearing, honest.) While it may seem hard to defend people who continue to support someone who is so clearly off the rails, these are the people I grew up with. I lived in Flemingdon Park, Malton and in Ford’s own backyard in Rexdale. This means that there’s a really good chance you’re insulting people I grew up with and people I’m related to. And I’m a little okay with that. Still, I feel the need to explain how this mysterious demographic called Ford Nation formed and why they continue to defend a man who, well, does crack.
Explanation The First: Living In A Crappy Neighbourhood Sucks
Not shocking news, I suppose, but something you should bear in mind when considering Ford Nation. Most people who live in the “heart of Ford Nation” live there because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. We lived there because a janitor’s salary was enough to get a decent sized apartment. This was not true for, say, anywhere the subway goes. We lived in the ass-end of the city because it was cheap, not because we liked the sounds of late-night sirens, gun shots and our downstairs crack-dealing neighbour’s bass-heavy all-night music parties. We went to schools where teachers didn’t care. We had minimum wage jobs working for folks who hopped in their pretty cars and skipped back to Forest Hill when they were done bossing us around. We were occasionally afraid for our lives and almost always afraid for our bikes, sneakers and walkmans (what? It was the 90s.) I once had my bike stolen while I was riding it. It was an unhappy place to be. We knew the cops hated us. We knew our teachers dreamed of not having 3 devices protect their cars in the parking lot. We knew that politicians either ignored us or used us as talking points.
So how did this help Ford Nation to form? It’s easy. It’s like the soggy potato chip theory of childcare. You see, kids love potato chips (here serving as a metaphor for positive attention.) Ideally kids want nice, fresh, crispy chips. Still, if the only chips left are the soggy, gross ones, they’ll take those (our stand in for negative attention.) Basically, the Fords are our soggy potato chips. They may not be all crisp and tasty, but damn it, at least they’re chips. Most politicians don’t notice crappy neighbourhoods. Even if they do, they usually come to the conversation full of misconceptions, useless platitudes or downright silly suggestions.
The Fords may not be improving our neighbourhoods (in fact, I’ve talked about the damage I think their behavior does) but they are engaging with people who are often neglected. Unless you’ve lived in Rexdale, you can’t understand just how unseen and unacknowledged the residents can feel. To be seen and acknowledged is not the same as being helped, but it’s certainly better than being ignored. When you judge Ford Nation, realize that they aren’t just choosing between between bad and good, they’re choosing between bad and being ignored.
Explanation The Second: Ford Nation Used To Have The Moral High Ground
I come from the type of people who might support a guy like Ford. They go to church a little too much. They are pretty judgmental (though only of certain things) and they read The Sun. And thirty or forty years ago, most of the city was on their side. In the 80s, when I was a kid, marriage between two people of the same sex was still 25 years in the future. In 1989, two separate people were murdered for being gay or just appearing to be gay. Both of these events happened when I was in the eighth grade. It wasn’t until 1991 that we had our first openly gay Toronto politician, and he was elected in the riding commonly called the Gaybourhood. I remember the open joking and underhanded comments that accompanied his election. Now, in 2014, we may feel that we are a better community, but this openness does not have a long history. It is young and, according to a lot of Ford Nation, wrong.
I want to be very clear here: I’m bisexual. I’m all about rights. I’m as lefty as you can get (and still swing both ways.) But I understand that there are a lot of people out there, though the number is shrinking, who are icked out by gay people. And for a long time, they were generally supported in their point of view. The same can be said of their attitudes about homelessness, immigration, culture and finances. There was a time, very recently, where their opinions were the standard.
And now they are not.
I look at the things I believe deeply: That people deserve equal opportunities and treatment, that love is more important than money, that we need to protect the environment we live in. I ask myself, what if it swung over? What if rights were stripped away? What if the majority became opposed to multiculturalism or gay rights or education and health care? If my opinion was unpopular, would I abandon it, or would I dig my heels in and fight for change?
I like to think that I would fight for what I believe, with my votes, my behavior and my money. And in the end, that is also true of Ford Nation.
Are they wrong? I really, really think so. But they spent a long time being told they were right. The world changed and they didn’t keep up. That’s often how humans operate. We listen to bands we liked in high school. We drink our favourite beer. We pine for the good old days. And Rob Ford is right there pining with Ford Nation – and that may be something we cannot change.
Explanation The Third: Tax Money Really Matters To Ford Nation
I’m a grown up. I have a mortgage and bills and more than one type of insurance. It’s tough to stay on top of it. We do fine, but it’s given me a deep appreciation for the budgets my mother created. She fed, housed and clothed five people on what I now realize is a ridiculously low amount of money. Of that ridiculously low amount of money, a good hunk went to income taxes. Another hunk went to sales taxes. All told, more than 30% of our money disappeared into the well that waters our national garden. Now, we went to school and got medical care and enjoyed garbage pick up and paved roads, so I’m not going to complain about paying taxes, but I have a pretty personal understanding of how – uh – taxing those deductions can be.
Because our income was so low and my family featured an array of dependents, we almost always got money back after tax returns were filed.
How to put this? Tax return time was second Christmas at my house. If the tax return was big enough, we’d each get a $20 bill to spend on anything we liked. Anything.
Tax returns helped us pay down our bills, pick up the purchases we’d been putting off and even get a few treats. I cannot overstate how exciting tax time was.
Because when you are on the bottom of the income spectrum, every loonie matters. If someone promises a person making $50,000+ a year a few more dollars, it’s dismissible. Not so much if that’s your lunch budget for the week. To understand how important tax cuts are to Ford Nation, you have to understand the impact that a 10%, 20% or 30% deduction would have on a subsistence level income.
For me, it was the difference between Rocket Hockey and no Rocket Hockey. Which I think you’ll agree is a pretty damn big difference.
So in summary, my left-leaning, sane-thinking, baffled and bemused friends, call Ford Nation whatever smug nickname you want. Mock their intelligence, their ethics and their taste in track pants. But remember, what separates you from them may be a few years, a few dollars and a few kilometers. And that ain’t much.