I’m Cate, Elizabeth’s daughter, excited to have an opportunity to write my mom’s usual column this Sunday. She is out of commission for a couple weeks, because she had a knee replacement surgery on Wednesday!
My mom graciously participated in my East Coast book launch yesterday (Saturday) from her recuperation bed. Sylvia Olsen and I have now had 3 incredibly fun book events online, since we released the middle readers biography, “Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist.” Writer and journalist Stephanie Domet moderated our Writers’ Federation of NS event beautifully. Sylvia and I talked about how much we love my mom but did NOT want to paint her as a hero. Then my mom heroically showed up to say hello on Zoom even though she had a knee replacement surgery 3 days ago (and she mentioned her previous 2 hip surgeries). Stephanie quipped, “Well, even if the book says she’s not a superhero, perhaps she is becoming a Bionic Woman now.”
Please watch and share the recording of our East Coast book launch here :
My mom has given so much of herself in her political work, but it’s been reciprocated in so many ways by the activists and friends who have shared it with her. Her 2006 bi-election campaign in London, ON, saw her door knocking with a painfully arthritic hip and a tooth that needed to be extracted. She got her first hip replacement a few months later. At the time, I was a teenager, not equipped to support someone recuperating from surgery. She went to the hospital for surgery by herself. Her emergency contact was her right-hand woman / work-wife, Debra Eindiguer. Thankfully, our close family friends Jim and Phyllis MacNeill knew she would need support, and they helped set her up with a short-term room in the nearby care home for elderly people. I would visit her there every day after school and eat dinner with her in her room. She was still working on her computer and phone a lot of the time I was there. Her second hip replacement was much the same. She refused to take serious pain-relieving drugs, opting for extra strength Tylenol. Her physical rehab went smoothly, and she exceeded expectations of how quickly a person can bounce back and return to a strenuous work-life.
The knee replacement surgery went well this week, but it is taking a toll. She has to take strong painkillers, and she doesn’t like the sense of losing hours from the brain fog that comes with the territory. It’s so, so wonderful that she has a full-time caregiver with her now, in her husband John. I’ll be there to help take care of her for a few days at least. Thank goodness John is there to be a loving,
responsible partner looking after her.
This month has brought a lot of heartbreak watching the internal strife of the Green Party of Canada. My mom and I have had our share of rocky times with internal party politics, but it hasn’t ever been quite like this. Among other nasty media narratives, she weathered people accusing her of bullying. These accusations did not come with specific requests for change or learning, and they sadly fell into the misogynistic tropes of disparaging women in authority.
I myself experienced a public attack from a journalist when I was a teenager. I was a little naïve about party politics, and thought it was a good idea to send a private email to Green candidates in swing ridings that could go Conservative during the 2008 election campaign, urging them to make an ‘Anyone but Harper’ plea to the electorate. I hadn’t told my mom that I was going to do this, yet everyone assumed that a teenager could not have written such an articulate email and therefore angrily accused my mom of covertly supporting a strategic voting approach. That was a real mess. The party released a
statement disavowing my emails. I left the Young Greens Council because I felt alienated and unsupported.
The Green Party of Canada is not immune from the systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. that permeates Canadian society. Amita Kuttner has been an inspirational spokesperson through this difficult period in Green politics, pointing out that Greens need to do the work. We need to dig into the places where discriminatory micro-aggressions or macro-aggressions occur and become accountable to one another for harms that we perpetuate, whether knowing or unknowing. You can listen to Amita’s thoughtful observations on this Power and Politics episode, from minutes 24:30-32:50.
In a recent column, journalist Don Martin defended the Greens against accusations of racism by noting how Greens are “the most inclusive of all political activists.” I want us all to be alarmed by this move to innocence, defending a political group because it’s reportedly made up of good people. That itself is an erasure of the oppressive, discriminatory experiences that people who are racialized, trans, queer, disabled, etc. face. https://www.ctvnews.ca/
I’m a student of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice, and my mom and I have been on a journey together for the last decade of learning more about privilege, dynamics of oppression, micro- aggressions and on and on… We’ve needed to unlearn a lot of the blinders that white people of privilege often maintain in this society. It’s a never-ending kind of learning, where imperfection and mistakes are inevitable. As Amita said on Power and Politics, we all need to be aware of the ways hate and discrimination are present in these political spaces, and we need to be able to criticize actions or behaviours without condemning people. It’s tremendously sad that the internal party tensions are not handled through compassionate practices and accountable spaces. It’s a huge loss that the ensuing media frenzy diminishes the dedicated efforts of countless candidates and volunteers who want to make their communities healthier and more democratic.
I hope that, as Greens, we bear in mind how much love and support people in this community have shown to each other over numerous difficult campaigns and political hurdles. That kind of mutual care is completely necessary to help us find a path forward. If you’d like to dig into what compassionate accountability looks like, learn about the movements for transformative justice and incredible abolitionist activists like Mariame Kaba. https://transformharm.org/
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens