Community as Participation
A Meditation on Punk Rock, Citizenship and Reciprocity
Here are two things that you may not know about me: the first is that very late last year, I officially became a Canadian citizen. The second, is that I grew up deeply entrenched in the music and ethic of punk rock thanks in no small part to my father (something for which I am eternally grateful). I share these things because I have been thinking about community, belonging, and reciprocity a lot lately. More specifically, I have been considering what it means to belong to a community, how I feel about it, and what gives rise to a strong sense of give and take in the communities in which I am involved.
For most of my life, I have felt kind of like my legal status; a landed immigrant (before the days of ‘Permanent Resident’). When I traveled, my passport was different, I said things with a weird hold-over pronunciation from preschool years in California, and I had no ‘roots’ here - no local family lineage or history. Thankfully, as I grew older most of those things mattered less to me. I considered myself Canadian, my parents and siblings began to set our own roots, and I got used to pronouncing pasta in a way that got laughs.
What all this means is that I began to become a part of the place that I resided.
That happened in a multitude of ways. First, I simply existed - I am in class pictures in elementary and secondary schools, in faded newspaper clippings for random community events, and in the memories of those that shared those years with me. Second, I made this place a Place: a piece of land and landmark that carries significance to me. A multitude of memories and feelings and experiences (both good and bad) that tie me to the physical landscape of my town. Third, I have come to accept that this is where I a from. It is not shameful (as it was in my youth), it is a point of pride. This distinction is important because it denotes choice. An adoption, rather than a circumstance one is born (or moved) into. I like that people (mostly) smile and nod on the streets, know each other by sight if not by name, and genuinely seem interested with what is going on.
All this is to say that community is a multifaceted and complex idea. I think that it involves not only circumstantial events, like moving somewhere for work or to be closer to family, or to simply start again, but also includes things like participation, a sense of belonging, and a reciprocal attitude.
Quesnel feels more like a place I want to be the more I treat it like I care that it exists, and imagine it thriving in a future not yet come.
So where does punk rock fit? It matters in my own story because as a newer Canadian citizen, I now have the privilege of voting. I can partake in our chosen form of democracy, and ideally effect the change I want to see.
I will say right here, I don’t care what your political affiliation is, the following thoughts are on participation and giving back as a ethic of community, not as a persuasive argument for any political party or candidate.
The punk rock I grew up on was staunchly anti-authority. Lyrics usually fell into general genres of rallying against oppression, defeating the status quo, or just lamenting a feeling on non-belonging and (perceived) powerlessness. As such, I came to really develop a cynical view of power structures. I didn’t trust them, I didn’t believe they told the truth, and I thought participation in the system was a form of ‘selling out’. It was a convenient way, ironically, of finding my own sense of community, and opting out of any real participation.
Looking back on it now, it reminds me of William Golding’s essay “Thinking as a Hobby” where he outlines different levels of thinking. In his three grades, I was definitely caught in Grade Two Thinking, characterized by reveling in tearing things down without being able to build them back up again. As Golding puts it, “To find out the deficiencies of our elders bolsters the young ego but does not make for personal security.” I would interpret that also as not making meaningful personal connection - a fundamental component to building community. See, Golding says that the real goal should be to reach Grade One Thinking: the place where one not only wants to point out deficiencies, but also wants to work (and I think this requires others to work with) to build up something more meaningful in it’s place.
Luckily, I have been able - through introspection, lots of reading, and wonderfully intelligent friends who like to talk - to figure out what it means to be a Grade One thinker. It means to give back. Punk Rock made me really proficient at taking; taking my good fortune for granted, taking a critical eye to positions of power, and taking nothing at face value (which encouraged me to read and write and explore and think). But what I have come to see, especially as a counsellor, citizen, son, brother and husband, is that I need to rebuild as well. To ask the question: now that the buildings have crumbled, what do we erect in their place? I need to give energy back in the form of participation, volunteerism, kindness, openness, and compassion. I need to be mindful of my impact on the communities (geographic, political, familial [including friends], collegial to name a few…) of which I have the honor to be apart.
The truth is, all of this thinking came to a head when my wife and I began discussing the voting coming up in the next few days and weeks. I am a little older, and my conceptions of what matters has changed, and I really do think that taking part means showing up. I am saying this as a man with a little cynical devil that still holds permanent residence in my mind, one that tries to convince me that doing nothing is as effective as casting a ballot.
Comments on WTF Facebook pages don’t make change, showing up and giving back does.
I’ll see you at the polls, band t-shirt and ripped jeans and all.
Be well, friends,