Earlier this week I was browsing my twitter feed when I noticed the a number of posts using the hashtag #ImagineOctober20th . The tweets were Canadians speculating on what the country might look like if the Conservatives are voted out of power in the October 19th federal election. The tweets also highlighted some of the controversial decisions made by the Tories including their commitment to fossil fuels, reduced funding for the CBC, and Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s refusal to speak with journalists, among others.
One of the main contributors to the hashtag was Stars frontman Torquil Campbell, who answered questions and chatted with fans, while encouraging posters to get involved in any way they can. In response to the hashtag a series DIY arts events have popped up across the country where musicians, writers, and other artist are coming together to share their distaste for the current administration. Campbell is hosting his own event in Toronto on September 30th. The show will take place at 918 Bathurst and features performances by Feist, The Sadies, Dave Bidini, and more.
I recently had the chance to speak with Campbell about #ImagineOctober20th and the role artists play in politics.
Graham Isador: The first I heard about #ImagineOctober20th was through your twitter. Can you explain when the hastag is and why you got involved?
First I want to EMPHASIZE that this has no leader. There's no bank account. There's no office. There's just an idea and a bunch of people who feel hopeful about change in this country. What we hope is that people use their hearts, minds, and energy to imagine a new chapter in this country. That simple. It can come in the form of something as small as poem, or as large as a concert. If we all imagine the country we want to live in, maybe we can start to shift the dialogue and actually get it closer to that dream. And when another party does take over, they will know what the people who elected them expect. And they should be held to account for it just as toughly as Stephen Harper. I’m one voice among many. It’s just as much your thing as it is mine.
One of the main things you’re doing to promote #ImagineOctober20 are arts events across Canada. What role do you think artists have to play in politics?
In a healthy society artists can reflect the conscience and the emotion of the community. Artists speak about matters of the heart, which politics often dismisses as simplistic or unhelpful. I believe very strongly that art spreads compassion and empathy, and I think those things are sorely missing from a lot public policy.I think the reason so many artists have responded to this (#ImagineOvtober20th) is that they feel powerless and they feel afraid of public censure and judgement. The shut up and sing syndrome. This is a platform for the imagination. I think artists feel most comfortable in that realm, not in the realm of so called "politics".
I’m not a political person- I care about people and I see how public policy effects the lives of the vulnerable and the powerless. When they are it ignored, it fucking makes me angry. I think it makes a lot of us angry. Not just artists, but everyone. You know, conservatives think people suck. They base their policies around fear and selfishness. But people don't suck. Most of us know that. If you invest in people's goodness, good things happen.
There are a lot of parallels between #ImagineOctober20th to The Rock against Bush campaign in 2004. Are you at all concerned that associating a political cause with artists might mean people take these cause less seriously?
Anyone who would take a cause or issue less seriously because an artist spoke out about it is an idiot. Not to put too fine a point on it. I don't really have much more to say about that. We pay taxes. We raise our kids. We work for a living and we have as much right to speak as anyone else does. The idea that we don't is ridiculous.
The #ImagineOctober20th website lists a number of reasons to be tired of Harper and the Conservative Government. Is there any of their actions that stands out to you as particularly offensive?
For me, although I think almost all of their policies are wrong, the real problem with the Harper era is that it has made Canada a more divided, fearful and angry place. That's not leadership. I know lots of truly great people who don't share my political views. I have great, respectful, passionate arguments with those people that end in a beer.
The Harper government doesn't want to talk; they want to fight. For too long the left has shied away from the battle. I think people are ready now to stand up and call this government what it is: a divisive, arrogant mess that doesn't represent this country as we all imagine it. This movement is an attempt to move beyond that and say; ok, they are on their way out. We've had enough. Now what is going to emerge in their place? What kind of country do we want? And how do we get to that beautiful idea? The connection to that dream is what I think is resonating about the imagine October 20th movement.
You’ve expressed multiple times that what #ImagineOctober20th is a community. What do you mean by that? How can other people get involved?
All you have to do to get involved is do something. Make a t-shirt or a lawn sign. Have a party where you and your friends read essays about the Canada you imagine. Set up a concert in your town. There's a website you can send the info too and all that stuff will get posted there. All you have to do is find your positive energy and direct towards the morning of October 20th. That could be one amazing party, man. That's what we're suggesting. It's up to us, and if we take action and follow our hearts and imaginations, they will be beaten. We will have the chance to start again.
Please understand that I, nor Dan, nor anyone else is the leader of this thing. There is no leader. There is just an idea and a community. And that's all we need to have an effect.
Photos via: Twitter and Wei Ye Chen Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter: @presgang