Belonging: How I Became a Left Canadian Nationalist

By Thompson, Susan | Canadian Dimension, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Belonging: How I Became a Left Canadian Nationalist


Thompson, Susan, Canadian Dimension


  Avery Arable: "Can I have a pig too, Pop?"
  John Arable: "I only distribute pigs to early risers, and Fern was up
  at daylight trying to rid the world of injustice."
  --Charlotte's Web

I spent my childhood on a mixed family farm helping raise chickens, cows, barley, wheat and pigs, but I grew up feeling like the black sheep. Growing up the unconsciously progressive child of staunch conservatives--so staunch, my mother currently works for the Fraser Institute--I always felt as though maybe something was wrong with me. My parents often couldn't help but agree. "The things we thought would upset you didn't upset you," they've since told me. "But things that we didn't think would matter made you get upset."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The problem for me was that from the time I was small I had a certain sense that some things were just wrong. Not morally wrong--I didn't have enough religion instilled in me to ever make that connection. But wrong in the sense that they were unfair, or unjust, or inaccurate--wrong in the sense that they were things that needed to be changed.

ROOTS

Looking back now, I can joke that I was the product of genes that skipped a generation. My Finnish grandparents always vote NDP, and, after all, they grew up in a progressive society that was the first in the world to give women the vote. My grandfather defended his beloved forested Karelia from the Russians in the Winter War only to have to leave his families' home, never to return, when the Russians successfully conquered the province. The rest of the Finns all contributed some of their precious gold jewelry and other pieces of personal wealth to ease the transition of the Karelian refugees as they resettled in what remained of the country, a massive national exercise in the voluntary redistribution of wealth. My Dutch grandmother Maretje lied to gun-toting Nazis at her door during the occupation of Holland and hid cheeses for the resistance, working with my grandfather to hide people who otherwise would have been destined for the camps.

Actually, despite our misunderstandings, my parents taught me some valuable early lessons about how to fight for what you believe. When I was still very small--I was colouring pictures of Mary in the basement instead of listening to the services--my parents left their church, explaining to my brother and I that they felt it was wrong for the pastor to preach that Black people and Jews were going to Hell. Knowing I was bright, my parents fought to get me into grade one even though I was technically too young, and went as far as taking me to a child psychologist to have my I.Q. tested and meeting several times with the principal. In the end, they won. Those early examples taught me that, if you don't like the way things are, you can do something about it, even if the things that I currently work hard to change aren't the things my parents would have picked for me.

READING

Still, for years I remained confused. School was no help. In books, at least, I found people and ideas with which I could relate. I devoured science fiction--not the endless throwaway sequels so common to the genre today, but classic or near-classic writers of ideas, like Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Robert A. Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury, many of whom were to be found lining my parents' extensive bookshelves. Bradbury got me hooked on dystopias with Fahrenheit 451, an addiction I still suffer from today, and eventually I sat at the feet not only of Orwell and Aldous Huxley, but also Margaret Atwood, Yevgeny Zamyatin, John Brunner, Samuel Butler, Mikhail Bulgakov and Kim Stanley Robinson. Worlds gone mad, the aftermath of apocalypse, and slides into totalitarianism were stories I couldn't get enough of. Books honed my ideas and introduced me to social and political concepts through the visceral experience of living imagined lives.

At times, the progressive tendencies I still barely understood leaked out into my real-world expression. …

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